It’s the Money Stupid - or is it?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

March 21st, 2016



The United States is one of a growing number of places on earth where political candidates can opt for public funding. But in that crazy world we call US politics, Mr. Obama shunned the public option for both of his election wins – because he could raise more money on his own. And much of that money came from small individual donations rather than contributions from corporations and unions


While “Daddy Warbucks was a real person the name came to be used as a charicacture for “big men” with immense wealth that could be used for any purpose they wished – often political.

In sharp contrast, later this year, the infamously wealthy Koch brothers, also known as Daddys Warbucks, are going to rain down almost a billion dollars for the GOP presidential campaign south of the border. And they are but one of the numerous corporate political action committees (PAC) in the game there throwing money into the election, hoping that will get them a win, in the increasingly expensive US election orgy.

Back on earth, Canada’s political parties in last year’s federal election were entitled to spend a maximum of $54 million dollars each. None of them actually got to the max, though the Conservative Party came closest at just over $50 million. And they lost the election anyway which makes me believe that there is a God and that the old Beatles standard, ‘money can’t buy me love’, is occasionally true.

The winners, the Trudeau Liberals, spent around $10 million less. It was what they were selling, rather than how much they advertised, which evidently won the election. Now that is refreshing – that ideas alone can win elections – putting to rest the notion that the public can always be bought with its own money. And it is our own money, or at least most of it, when we consider that the funds raised by these parties are tax-deductible.


Cash in envelopes was the advice former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was said to have given his political cohorts.

Individual donations are the only way federal political parties can raise money here since Mr. Harper eliminated the decade-old annual per-vote public subsidy last year. He argued that government should not be subsidizing the political parties. Who was he kidding? For starters he must have forgotten about the generous rebates Elections Canada doles out to eligible candidate campaigns.

Then there are those individual tax-deductible donations, which in 2009 accounted for almost twice as much of a subsidy to political parties as the per-vote annual government grants. Of course It is no secret that well-healed individual Tory contributors give far more money than that more economically diverse Liberal crowd. And the higher your tax bracket the more valuable these tax deductions are. But perhaps it was only well-meaning ideology and not self-serving hypocrisy which framed Harper’s argument?

But if anyone thinks the federal political funding scene could be better, they need only to look at the provinces. Following the Liberal ‘Sponsorship’ scandal, at the turn of the last decade, corporations and unions were prohibited from contributing to federal political parties. But, provincially, Ontario is still the wild west with the teachers unions, law firms and countless other corporate and labour associations pouring money into party coffers they hope will make a difference.

In B.C.’s last election, corporate donations to the provincial Liberals swamped individual donations. Of course, critics point out that banning corporate and union donations will just result in masked individual donations, leaving the influence peddling unabated. And that speaks to the rationale by those calling for the elimination of individual donations and fully subsidizing political parties, complicated as that might be.

Brown paper bag

It may not come in brown bags any more but cash does move from the people who have influence to the people who want to see that influence used in their favour.

These critics notwithstanding, it is remarkable that the provincial governments have not been forced to follow the federal government by at least eliminating corporate and union donations. Of course, it’s about the money. In fact Ontario’s premier has been criticized for holding ‘special meetings’ with those willing to cough up big bucks for that privilege.

The optics couldn’t be worse. Allowing money to buy access to Ontario’s chief policy maker is what we call influence peddling, and it is the first step on the road to corruption. Ontario residents expect and deserve better.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. Rivers is no longer active with any political party.

 Background links:

Koch Brothers        PACs (USA)

Money Can’t Buy Me Love

2015 Federal Election Spending          Federal Financing        Influence Peddling      Ontario’s Political Financing

Political Party Financing      Ontario Liberal Donation Limits      Donations from Law Firms

Teachers Unions       B.C. Political Financing

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4 comments to It’s the Money Stupid – or is it?

  • Ray Rivers

    Thanks Bill. Sometimes the best way to help your friends is to tell them what you see as the truth. And the provincial Liberals are not the only political party that conducts these kinds of special meetings – but it is the government.

  • Bill Statten

    Ray, I am very proud of you. As a current and former Liberal party supporter, it is refreshing to read your critical analysis of the Ontario Liberal party’s close association to significant donors. Let’s hope your former colleagues heed your wise advice to clean up their act.

  • Marco Pardi

    The United States has recently been slipping in its role as generator of new speech idioms such as:Okay; FUBAR; SNAFU; WTF and etc. But perhaps it can revise earlier folk wisdom such as Pull Yourself up by Your Own Bootstraps with something far more current – Pull Yourself up by Someone’s Purse Strings.

  • Robert & Eloise Blun

    In filling out our Canadian Income Tax returns this year, we noticed that there is a better return for a political contribution than there is for a Charitable Donation. With so many worthy groups suffering along with the rest of our depressed economy, we find that appalling. If fair taxation is a right, this should allow for more equitable consideration of worthier causes as well.